Keller’s parents and school staff meet behind closed doors to determine which books can stay on the library shelves.
Anonymous committee members will discuss the merits of the work of authors like Toni Morrison as well as titles that have gained national recognition. Such nationwide discussions are encouraged by Republican leaders who target books on race and sexuality.
And these debates taking place across Texas are so heated that members of the Keller ISD Book Challenge committees have been asked to sign confidentiality agreements.
The morning news from Dallas Obtained reports from district committees through a public records request, highlighting this process. The reports provide insight into how books are rated and the issues parents raise when they say they shouldn’t be available to children.
The work of protest committees has already led to the removal of books from shelves, as similar moves across the state have drawn condemnation from education and freedom of expression advocates.
School libraries, they say, are often the place where children turn for free access to literature that both reflects their own experiences and broadens their understanding of the world. In recent years, school librarians and educators have strived to broaden their selection of books to include the stories of people who are often under-represented in the program.
Many contested books across Texas – and across the country – delve into the experiences of people of color and the LGBTQ community. Rabid parents read salacious excerpts from documents they deem inappropriate at school board meetings.
Ashley Hope Pérez, author and former teacher from Texas, asked if book committees or school officials make decisions to appease parents rather than based on what students need from literature. His book, Out of the darkness, is a work of historical fiction that has been contested statewide because it contains sexual content and violence.
“When school districts elevate the interests of this handful of arriving parents – calling the books ‘filth’ that have characters with these identities – they are essentially endorsing the marginalization of these young people,” she said.
Keller is under investigation by the Texas Education Agency over the district’s book supply. It appears to be the first to come under the microscope since Governor Greg Abbott called for an investigation into whether public school libraries contain obscene material. Lawyers quickly lambasted Abbott for stoking moral panic by labeling books, especially those about LGBTQ people, as pornographic.
Keller officials declined a request for an interview on his book protest committees, citing the TEA’s ongoing investigation.
One of the contested books in the neighborhood is Not all boys are blue by George Johnson. A parent complained about the book because of its “language, LGBTQ content, sexual content,” according to a committee report.
Johnson said on a recent censorship panel that the book is “for people who are like me to feel seen and heard and for people who are unlike me to know that we actually exist in this world and that ‘it was up to them to change the circumstances of the people who have been historically marginalized in this country. ”
In the end, Keller agreed that Johnson’s goal was achieved.
“The committee unanimously agreed that the book should remain in high school libraries and in high school class libraries,” the report said.
Other books, however, have encountered a different result.
The challenge process
Keller ISD maintains an ever-growing webpage, listing every book challenged by parents or community members, along with the results of each committee’s deliberations.
Committees for each book include at least one educator experienced in the use of the contested book. They can also include district staff, library staff, and students. Keller invites at least two parents to each committee.
The bluest eye, Morrison’s first novel: Pending Result. Homosexual gender, a graphic novel specifically called by Abbott for his illustrations: No longer in circulation in the neighborhood. I am Jazz, a children’s book about a transgender girl: review scheduled for January 10.
At the top of the list is Pérez’s book, Out of the darkness.
A Fort Worth woman challenged the book in October, writing in her complaint that it was “so sexually explicit, violent and obscene that it is traumatic for students and should be removed for their safety and emotional well-being.” .
The book committee report first takes stock of the purpose of the book and whether it serves it well. Out of the darkness tells a doomed love story between a Mexican American girl and an African American boy, leading to the New London school explosion in 1937.
“The book explores discrimination and racism against Latin individuals while highlighting a little-known tragedy in Texas,” the committee wrote.
Then they examine its content: is the resource appropriate at the campus level? Are the illustrations appropriate for the subjects and age groups? Does it give a new dimension or direction or different from the others available to the subject?
The sexual content of the book is “not ubiquitous and is only a small part scattered in a long and rich book,” notes a committee report.
This echoes the arguments of Pérez and other authors, who rebuffed the parents’ complaints. The authors say pieces of their work are taken out of context when evocative snippets are shared in passionate testimonies at school board meetings.
Reading about sexual abuse, which is part of Out of darkness’ the plot, “allows for conversations that could never happen otherwise,” the committee members noted.
“Young people may recognize behavior as bad in a book before they see the same mistake in the abuse they’ve been subjected to and ask for help because of it,” they wrote.
Keller officials recognize that students’ First Amendment rights should be considered when assessing credentials. Committees must determine whether the book is “generally vulgar”.
Ultimately, the divided committee concluded that because high school maturity levels vary, “not all students can handle the book.” Out of the darkness – which received a national award for adolescent literature in 2016 – will not be available on the open shelves of Keller school libraries. From now on, it can only be consulted with the consent of the parents.
Keller officials allow parents to ban their children from viewing any book that has been officially challenged this year. Other districts often have a process that allows families to have a say in access to books.
Pérez said the committee process raises more questions. Who was included in the debate? Have students’ voices been taken into account? And have they given any thought to what the institution of parental restriction actually does for adolescent access?
“There is probably not a single book in this library that is suitable for all students,” she said. “I never intended to write a book for all students. Corn Out of the darkness is the book for a student or certain students, and they deserve to be able to find it in their school library.
Several of the books currently in dispute in Keller were on a list circulated by Rep. Matt Krause earlier this year.
The Fort Worth Republican sent some superintendents a letter listing over 800 titles. The lawmaker – who is the chairman of the House inquiry committee and has briefly considered a candidacy for the post of attorney general – has asked school officials to identify whether these books are in schools, where they are. found and how much money had been spent on them.
Since then, the Texas fight for the books has intensified.
Abbott has asked state education officials to investigate whether pornography is available in public schools and to notify law enforcement if such material is accessible. In Williamson County, commissioners debated withholding federal pandemic relief funds to districts due to such literary controversies.
It is still unclear what will happen to TEA’s investigation into Keller. State officials plan to check to see if the district has not properly reviewed and monitored the books in the library, which has led to students gaining access to inappropriate content.
The district continues to invite parents and community members to report inappropriate books through a Google form.
Among the titles that have given rise to complaints: The Bible.
The parent – who wrote that the book contained “sexual content, violence, including rape, murder, human sacrifice, misogyny, homophobia, discrimination and other inappropriate content” – finally withdrew its challenge.
The DMN Education Lab deepens coverage and conversation on pressing education issues critical to the future of North Texas.
The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network , Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of Education Lab journalism.